Ok, I surrendered. Thanks to a generous anonymous member and a 1/3-off sale at Harbor Freight, I have a working welder. I will add pics to this thread of it as soon as I figure out why the card slot in the PC isn't working.
Probably dog hair.
EDIT: yeah, dog hair.
Pics now added.
I tried to find anyone local selling a *good* wire-feed welder that could be used with flux-core wire within the limits of the donation, but haven't been able to, except a couple I'm absolutely sure would have to be stolen for that price, given their condition and the shadiness of the people offering them. So I passed them up despite the incredible deal...I'd rather just not deal with that kind of potential problem, and I don't want to support thieves.
Anyway, it's a low-end MIG capable model,http://www.harborfreight.com/welding/mi ... 94164.html
but I don't have any bottles for it. (well, actually if it can use just CO2 I have some old paintball gear someone gave me, that include a couple of partial bottles, but I don't know if I have the right valve stuff to use them or not--nothing comes iwth the welder).
But it also still uses flux-core wire I already have from the previous always-breaking welder, and comes iwth a roll, too.
One little issue is it is a 230V model, and I have no outdoor 230V outlets, so I kinda had to hack one in, using the stove/dryer breakers/etc. since I won't be using those at the same time as welding anyway. I'll work on a better more permanent solution if I can ever find a salvaged expansion panel I can mount up and wire in properly, to stick the outlet and breakers just for this into. Till then, this will have to do.
I used 10AWG 300V 3-conducter wire a friend had donated to me a while back, that was already meant for 230V, with a 250V/30A twist plug at one end and a custom plug for a rack enclosure supply at the other.
Had to change the plug at the welder end to some that I had both male and female for (since the welder comes with just bare input wires), so I ended up with just a 250V/15A plug on there. Good enough for the low-power welding I am mostly going to do.
Tested it out on various things, like a scrapped seatpost, and it works much better than the other one did even at the beginning. I can just about control the weld with it, though I obviously need to practice more.
I tested it on all four settings,
and at the highest I could use it to cut metal with, if I had to--it just burns right thru the seatpost like a torch.
I actually had burned thru about 3" of that line, but I went back and practiced closing up the burn thru holes at the lowest setting. That's something I just about could never do with the old welder, so there's another improvement.
One nice thing is that at the levels I'll mostly use it at, it is 100% duty cycle, so I don't have to weld half an inch and then wait what feels like an hour (10 minutes, really) to continue.
Had to do that with the old one even when I added fan cooling to it. This one already has fan cooling, too.
Later I will see about getting some *good* fluxcore wire from a welding shop, and figure out what I need to get for gas stuff for the MIG part. I dunno if I can afford to refill it and such (haven't checked prices yet), but I am sure I could do better welds with it that way.
Anyhow, now I can get back to this project, FINALLY.